Updated: June 25, 2012, 1:22 PM ET

Kurt Busch shows his mettle at Sonoma

Newton By David Newton
ESPN.com
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Nelson Piquest Jr.Dilip Vishwanat/Getty ImagesThe last-lap tussle between Jacques Villeneuve and Danica Patrick stole the spotlight from Brazilian driver Nelson Piquet Jr., who won his first Nationwide Series race Saturday at Road America.

What you saw Sunday on the road course at Sonoma is why Phoenix Racing owner James Finch stuck with Kurt Busch when the 2004 Sprint Cup champion gave him every reason to let him go. What you saw is why Busch's mechanics and crew members can't say enough good things about their driver when the rest of the world is bashing him.

What you saw is why Busch likely will land a top ride in 2013.

He's an amazing driver.

Busch drove an underfunded, non-sponsored, single-car team within one good move of the lead as the 110-lap race wound down. He drove it to third place on a green-white-checkered finish despite suspension problems of his own doing that might have handcuffed a lesser driver.

He did this two weeks after being suspended by NASCAR for threatening comments to a reporter that continued his long laundry list of issues with the media.

"If I can get my head on straight here and after the race, then I'm able to race every weekend and go for victories," Busch told reporters afterward.

A few weeks ago, Busch's chances of landing with a top-tier team next season didn't look good. Then he reminded everyone that he is one of the top drivers in the sport, and that if an owner can harness that talent and control his anger issues, Busch could be championship material again.

The effort Busch made after hitting the tire barriers to damage the suspension with eight laps remaining was at least heroic.

"I was watching him, and it was honestly … I don't know how he kept it on the racetrack with how much the rear end was moving around on that car," said Tony Stewart, who passed Busch for second behind Clint Bowyer on the final lap of the GWC finish. "I thought he did a really phenomenal job of just hanging on to what he had."

Busch was visibly emotional after the win. Perhaps the finish, combined with another minor run-in with a media member last week at Michigan and the thought of losing his ride at Phoenix Racing the rest of this season, opened his eyes.

But what stood out more than his composure during the GWC finish and postrace interviews was the way he handled himself on the track. Nobody could have blamed him had he moved Bowyer out of the way after harassing him for several laps when it appeared he had the faster car.

Instead, he showed amazing patience.

"No banzai moves here," Busch said. "There's a lot of respect that I was trying to give."

In the process, Busch earned respect.

Busch also earned respect with his postrace comments. When given the opportunity to take credit for nearly winning the race he won a year ago for Penske Racing, Busch praised everyone but him.

"It's definitely not the driver," he said. "You know, a lot of thanks has to go to Penske Racing and the commitment that they gave to me to help me on road courses and all of the testing we did to arrive at this point. I can't pat myself on the back too much.

"But there was a car on the front row [Jeff Gordon] with my setup from last year, and there was a [Jimmie Johnson] car out there with my setup. Hendrick Motorsports is a great organization. They give us engines and chassis. This weekend we wanted to help them with a bit of setup notes."

For the record, Johnson finished fifth and Gordon sixth.

Those weren't surprises, though. Busch's finish was, considering he's 27th in points and had no top-5s before Sunday.

If Busch can maintain his postrace demeanor the rest of the season and keep wheeling the No. 51 the way he did on Sunday, his options for next season should increase.

Then he really would have a reason to get emotional.

"I really want to deliver for my guys today, and being that close, and make one mistake, it's a tough game," Busch said. "That's why it's Sprint Cup."

And Cup teams need people who drive like Busch.

Terry Blount column: Bowyer arrives | Live! rewind | Recap | Results | Highlights

Nationwide Series: Public sympathy on Danica's side

A majority of you apparently believe Danica Patrick was wronged by Jacques Villeneuve when he moved her out of the way -- OK, punted her -- on the final lap battling for a top-5 finish on Saturday at Road America.

Around 65 percent of you, according to an informal survey taken on ESPN.com's live race chat on Sunday.

Guess what? Villeneuve doesn't care. He said so much after the race.

Penske Racing apparently isn't concerned, either. Villeneuve reportedly will drive in the Aug. 18 Nationwide road course race in Montreal.

But judging by our informal poll, sympathy is on Patrick's side after she saw a great run turn into a 12th-place finish. The driver who seemingly gets criticized every week for not getting better finishes has public opinion on her side.

She should. She wasn't the only driver Villeneuve punted on Saturday. A road course ringer knocking a Nationwide regular out of the way on the final lap to gain one spot was unwarranted.

Here was Villeneuve's recollection of the moment, in case you missed it:

"Well, we were racing hard and I wasn't fighting with Danica," he said. "I was fighting with Max Papis, and just before the braking, I guess he wanted to cross over and go to the inside of Danica. He probably didn't know I was there, so it pushed me in the grass.

"You don't slow down that much in the grass, so by that time I was on the racetrack again, I was going a little bit faster than Danica. That's all."

This didn't appear to be a male driver taking advantage of Patrick because he didn't want to lose to a female driver, as Patrick's crew chief, Tony Eury Jr., suggested a week earlier at Michigan.

But it wasn't necessary.

Sam Hornish Jr., who took advantage of the incident to finish fifth and maintain his position at fourth in points, stayed out of the conflict after the race the way he did during the race.

"I couldn't race those guys the way that you would want to because I have a lot more to lose," Hornish said. "I know Danica [10th in standings] is running for points, but she's not fourth in points and chasing down a championship.

"She's able to run a little bit harder, and Max, Jacques … they're coming to run the road courses and see what happens. It's kind of like you've got one hand tied behind your back. At least I didn't put myself there."

Patrick wasn't trying to, either.

Oh, and by the way, Nelson Piquet Jr. won the race.

Brant James: Danica gets turned, finishes 12th | Recap | Results | Highlights

Camping World Truck Series: Kentucky on tap

The series resumes on Thursday night at Kentucky Speedway. Justin Lofton leads the standings by five points over Timothy Peters.

David Newton covers NASCAR for ESPN.com. He can be reached at dnewtonespn@aol.com.

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